It’s official: Scott’s Addition is welcoming another craft beverage destination with open arms, but this time, (surprise!) it isn’t a brewery. Blue Bee Cider, Virginia’s first urban cidery and the sole cidery in Richmond, is excitedly anticipating their move to the historic city stables property on 3101 West Clay Street. This young company, who’s quickly made craft cider the trendiest drink in town, will take their rightful place amongst some of the city’s greatest local beverage institutions in the summer or fall of 2016, and when that day comes, you’d better believe that the whole town will celebrate…with all kinds of artisan drinks, of course.
Blue Bee Cider was founded by Courtney Mailey, who named the company after one of Virginia’s native bees, osmia lignaria. These bees, commonly known as blue orchard bees (which is thankfully much easier to say) serve as their partners in crime by emerging at the beginning of spring each year to pollinate apple blossoms.
After hitting a landmark age, Courtney came to the conclusion that she had had enough of working in an office, so she took action, left her corporate job, and was inspired to do exactly what her high school career aptitude test told her she was destined to do: work directly with agriculture – true story!
Energized by the rich history of cider in America, Courtney decided to take advantage of the emerging cider market and abundance of delicious apples in Virginia by starting up Blue Bee Cider. Since their doors opened in April of 2013, the company has grown like wild fire, and was motivated to move their business due to lack of room in their current downtown location next to Legend Brewery. “We’ve maximized what we can produce in this space, and the new site will allow us to keep growing at a reasonable rate,” says Brian Ahnmark, aka the “Cider Evangelist.”
After meeting with Brian, the reason Courtney gave him this nick-name is obvious; his incredible passion for cider is absolutely contagious, and we were convinced that cider may just be the world’s most incredible beverage after spending only five minutes with him…and not even having tasted the cider yet.
Brian, who began working with the cidery after responding to a Craigslist ad, says that everyone in the company shares his passion, and that Blue Bee Cider attributes much of their success to being in this vibrant, craft beverage loving city. Constantly going above and beyond their production goals, the overachieving cidery is on track to produce close to triple the amount of cider they made their initial year in business. “We have to give props to the people of Richmond…and the adventurousness of the area. Most people have still never had artisanal cider before, so it’s energizing to talk to them about it.”
Described by the Blue Bee Cider Evangelist himself, lovingly, as the “odd middle child” between craft beer and wine, their cider is between these beverages when it comes to both carbonation and alcohol content. Made using apples primarily from Virginia, their cider is made in a similar process to white wine; for each batch, they start by freshly pressing their apples to create a deeply golden, unfiltered juice, which tastes like the best apple juice you’ve ever had, multiplied by ten. They then add a champagne yeast to said glorious juice, and ferment the product anywhere from one to two months. After that, various ingredients are then added to create individual flavors. From start to finish, it takes about five months to make one batch of cider, and Brian anticipates that they will churn out approximately twenty this year.
What makes Blue Bee Cider stand out in the market is their boldness and creativity, which is evident in their unique variations and flavor combinations. With ciders ranging from old fashioned tavern style “so tart that you can feel it in the jaw,” to dessert cider, made with apple brandy, that is 18% alcohol by volume, it’s no wonder that everyone in the company is so excited about their product. “We’re lucky to have the potential, with a line-up of ciders, for them all to be unlike anything anyone has ever had before,” says Brian.
Thriving on experimentation, Blue Bee Cider is constantly and excitedly incorporating different ingredients and locally produced fruits into their ciders. Their first big experiment was their Hopsap Shandy, which was the first dry hopped cider in the state, and is now a very popular choice amongst customers. As Brian says, “There’s that spirit of saying ‘why not? Let’s give it a try and see what happens.’” Right now they are even playing around with a possible pear cider, which we don’t imagine will turn out to be anywhere near bad. “I don’t think that the experimentation is ever going to end here,” he adds.
Now in the design phases of the building process, Blue Bee Cider is looking forward to having more square footage for production as well as customer experience. Through incorporating new and improved equipment, the production process will become more efficient and organized, and the larger property will also enable them to increase their space available to the public. At the new location, Brian says that they plan on incorporating a larger tasting room, another seating area, and a patio that will include a “cider garden” of sorts, complete with beautiful apple trees.
Additionally, the cidery is thrilled to add their own unique flavor, literally, to a prospering neighborhood that is already full of wonderful craft beverage destinations. “Hopefully we’ll be able to present an evolved version of Blue Bee Cider, where the visitor experience can be something different with a bit of a storytelling aspect. We’re looking forward to being more visible and being able to share with more people what we love doing so much,” Brian says. We have to say, we’re probably just as excited as they are.